News Press

November 1, 2010

The river for breakfast

by Amy Bennett Willisams

About 130 people attended last week’s annual Environmental Breakfast focusing on the Caloosahatchee.

Wayne Daltry gave a dynamic Power Point history of the river, during which he reminded the audience that the dike around Lake Okeechobee is failing, then followed up with a heartbreaking montage of footage from Hurricane Katrina. His point: Given a disastrous storm, there are parallels to what might happen to the region around the lake — including the Caloosahatchee watershed.

And while it’s impossible to equal the impact of those images, here are some excerpts from a 2007 report from venerable British insurance firm, Lloyd’s of London:

Hurricane Katrina caused wide-scale damage to the

Louisiana coast and New Orleans in particular, (Lloyd’s share

was $3.4 billion). However, there are other less well-known

areas that are also extremely vulnerable to hurricanes.

Lake Okeechobee in Florida is ranked second by the International

Hurricane Research Center in a list of the most vulnerable US mainland

areas to hurricanes.

A report was commissioned by the South Florida Water

Management District in 2006 to review the stability and safety

of the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee.

Report concludes “The current condition of Herbert Hoover poses a grave

and imminent danger… … [The dike] needs to be fixed. We can only

add that it needs to be fixed now, and it needs to be fixed right. We firmly

believe that the region’s future depends on it.”

Work on the first three sections is expected to last for five

years and until this repair work is completed, the risk levels

associated with the Herbert Hoover Dike are elevated.

Insurers should be aware of research papers, such as those reviewed in

this report and scientific advances, particularly with regard to climate

change to factor forecasts when pricing catastrophe exposed risks in

Southern Florida.

As well as the total of 40,000 residents whose houses and

lives would obviously be in serious danger, there could be

far-reaching effects for the whole of southern Florida should

the Herbert Hoover Dike fail. The three counties to the immediate south-east of Lake Okeechobee

have a combined population in excess of 5 million residents.

Recovery could take years, with economic losses likely to run to the tens

of billions of dollars. This would be in addition to any related wind losses

which are also likely to be measured in billions.

While it’s not the sort of thing easily washed down with a mouthful of bacon and a swig of coffee, there was an earnest purpose behind the breakfast, and Daltry was trying to keep that front and center.

He left the group with a question to consider: Does the Caloosahatchee need a Riverkeeper — someone to keep watch over the Caloosahatchee and coordinate efforts to help it?

I spoke to the group about The News-Press’ ongoing commitment to the river and our River at Risk project.

Publisher Mei-Mei Chan asked me to remind the group about The News-Press Media Group’s goal of providing quality content that makes a difference by “connecting, reflecting, challenging and leading”; Community Conversations Editor David Plazas welcomed anyone to participate with letters to the editor or guest opinions as well as feedback about our coverage and Executive Editor Terry Eberle sent this message: “We will follow the progress — or lack of progress — on cleaning up the river mess.”